Manitoba

River Heights family bristles at city's inspection of non-manicured garden

A River Heights family says Winnipeg bylaw officers have overstepped reason by demanding they mow down tall grass, nettles and wildflowers growing in their yard.

City has received more than 3,000 complaints and issued more than 1,200 orders to mow so far this year

Julie Michaud and Stavros Angelatos say the city's bylaw around grass doesn't take into account the environmental benefits of it or its beauty. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

As the City of Winnipeg clamps down on unruly grass this summer, a River Heights family is questioning their tactics and priorities.

This summer the city is trying out a new, more streamlined way to enforce neighbourhood livability bylaws with hopes it will lead to grass being cut more quickly — either by the homeowner or the city at the homeowner's expense. 

Julie Michaud says her family was visited three times by bylaw officers since they received a formal letter warning that their boulevard grass was too long on June 26.

"I actually, personally, find a beauty in it," said Michaud of the grass Friday. "Think about all the butterflies. All the beautiful bugs that live in the grass. Moreover, we don't have to water our lawn."

The family's garden includes a mix of perennial plants, annuals, weeds as well as native species planted by the family. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Michaud and her spouse, Stavros Angelatos, say tall grass on the boulevard led to an inspection of their yard and a warning their garden — a non-manicured area filled with primarily native, wild plants including nettle, strawberries and some annuals in the front and rear of their house — may also be in violation of the bylaw.

Angelatos said he complied with the order to mow the boulevard and a subsequent order to tidy up grass around his fence, even though his family prefers the wild-looking plants, but he did not think the family should get rid of their garden. 

"The line was drawn once they were in the front yard and when they were trying to determine [whether] our back yard, inside our fence where no one can see, was in compliance," he said.

"That's when I was like, 'You guys are pushing on your authority here.'"

A bylaw officer returned to the home Friday afternoon and gave the family a pass on the garden, said Michaud.

The City of Winnipeg says bylaw enforcement is prompted by complaints to 311.

So far this summer, the city has received 3,182 complaints about long grass and issued 1,264 orders for owners to mow. As of Friday, 201 tickets had been issued, the City of Winnipeg said in an email. 

Fines start at $75 but can rise to $250 for homeowners who fail to act. Grass in Winnipeg cannot exceed 15 centimetres under the current bylaw. 

Bylaw officers work with the city's naturalist to ensure weeds are identified correctly. If violations are found, property owners are warned and provided contact information for the bylaw officer if they have questions, the city said in an email Friday. 

"Properties that citizens consider 'naturalized' are still expected to be in compliance with the bylaw, including long grass and weeds," a spokesperson said.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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